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After class and race, the most important dimensions of inequality in modern societies are gender and age. Gender refers to a set of culturally conditioned traits associated with maleness or femaleness (Kornblum 328). There are two sexes, male and female which are biologically determined statuses and two genders, masculine and feminine which are socially constructed ways of being a man or a woman.
A gender role is a set of behaviors considered appropriate for individuals of a particular gender. Controversies over whether women in the armed forces can serve in combat or whether men with children ought to be eligible for family leave from work are examples of issues arising out of the definition of gender roles.
All human societies are stratified by gender, meaning that males and females are channeled into specific statuses and roles. Comments such as, be a man or she is a real lady, often serve to remind us that our behavior is or is not conforming to the role expectations associated with our particular gender.
When women’s roles are thought to require male direction, as is the case in many households and organizations, the unequal treatment of men and women is directly related to gender roles. The roles assigned to men and women are accorded differing amounts of income, power, or prestige, and these forms of inequality contribute to the society’s system of stratification.
According to Kornblum, recent research has expanded the understanding of gender in society by demonstrating that gender stratification is a feature of organizations of all kinds, and not merely an attribute of individuals and their roles (329). The advantages of the male gender role in American society have long been noted. Men earn higher salaries and often command more respect than women do.
One reason traditionally male occupations are attractive to women, for example, is that they are more positively valued than women’s occupations. Closely related to the perceived higher status of the male role is the power that accompanies this more valued position. The higher status of the male gender role has been offered as a reason why women’s gender role violation is viewed more positively than men’s similar violations (Unger 224).
Gender as Social Construction and Social Structure
To sociologists, gender is not simply something that individuals have. It is something that is constantly recreated in individual socialization, in medical and cultural practices, and in social interaction. Similarly, sociologists describe gender as an attribute not only of individuals but also of social structures.
From the time they are born, girls are treated in one way and boys in another. They are, for example, wrapped in blue blankets or pink, encouraged to take up sports or sewing, and described as cute or as strong before they are old enough to truly exhibit individual personalities (Brinkerhoff et al. 202).
In this way, children are made to learn their gender and gender roles from a very early age. Studies have, however indicated that when parents do not exhibit gender stereotype behavior or punish their children for cross gender behavior, we end up with a more civilized society.
As a result of this learning process, boy and girls develop strong ideas about what is appropriate for girls and what is appropriate for boys. However, since boys are punished more than girls for exhibiting cross gender behavior, they tend to be especially rigid in their ideas of what girls and boys ought to do. Girls are freer to engage in cross gender behavior than boys.
Improvement of Gender Relations over the Years
According to Howe, men are these days living in less gender traditional families unlike in the past (93). In general, men are becoming less gender biased and are looking for something more than what traditional gender expectations can provide for them. The feminist movements have not only benefitted the lives of women, but have changed many men’s lives as well. For example, men no longer think that it is acceptable to beat or rape their wives, actions which were accepted as men’s rights in previous generations.
Unfortunately, men are still growing up in a world that expects them to be aggressive, assertive, and accomplished. In addition, men are also expected to be tender, emotional, and open with their partners. The society expects them to be physically strong yet not dominate in the work place. They are expected to play well with others in work teams and listen to their partners at home. However, boys are generally not socialized to practice these skills as they grow up (Howe 94).
Over the years, several laws and policies have been created to enhance gender relations. They include Policy on Gender and Development by the African Development Bank, requiring that gender be mainstreamed in all of the Bank’s operations, and Social Protection Strategy that seeks to eliminate any form of discrimination.
Predictions about the Future of Gender Relations
To improve gender relations even further, organizations such as Promise Keepers bring thousands of men together in large stadiums to discuss how they have let their important role in their families to disintegrate. The goal of these organizations is to help men reclaim their spiritual responsibility as servant leaders in the home.
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Even though Promise Keepers is a conservative Christian movement, it stemmed from the New Age, leftist liberal men’s movement of the 1970s and 1980s when scores of men would go into the woods, beat drums, and openly share about the pain and isolation they felt as boys and men trying to conform to rigid gender role expectations.
The liberal men’s movement sought to free men from narrowly defined gender stereotypes and stilted emotional lives. They built a brotherhood of open, caring, sensitive men who wanted to connect emotionally with their families. In a similar vein, the Promise Keepers group attempts to create a brotherhood of men working toward restoring wives’ and children’s love and faith in men as the religious and moral leaders of the home.
Promise Keepers seek to tear down the commercialization of masculinity, through belittling macho exploits that objectify sex and violence. They want their members to reject the need for power and money, stop starving for a capitalist dream, and start striving for family harmony and strong marriages. They encourage men to turn off their television sets and talk to their families.
In this brotherhood, men feel safe sharing their fears and deepest feelings, their sense of failure over not achieving high powered careers, and their sense of disconnection from their wives. They aspire to lead but also to serve their wives. As men strive to maintain traditional conservative gender roles, they are also seeking to redefine masculinity and create a sensitive, open, and economically connected modern patriarch.
Women often have the responsibility for the spiritual and moral upbringing of the next generation. Some conservative scholars, however, feel that we can not put these important goals in the hands of the government by increasing our use of day care centers for children.
They argue that women have high levels of role strain due partly to the media and the public disparaging traditional women’s work and the roles of their stay at home as wife and mother. As noted by Klein, gender relations may also be enriched through an educational process (539).
Feminist Movements within the United States
To appreciate the historic significance of the woman suffrage movement, it is necessary to understand the degree to which women expected the vote to lead to a total transformation of their lives. Apparently, this had to do with changes taking place in the family, its relation to society, and woman’s role within it.
Historically, the woman’s role has been shaped by her position in the family. Because the traditional family was the site of production and closely integrated with all forms of community life, women were recognized as participants in the larger world of the society. However, the family’s central importance in social organization meant that the patriarchal relations between men and women that characterized family life were carried into all other aspects of society as well.
Until the development of women’s rights and woman suffrage politics, the major approach to improving women’s status came from domestic reformers, such as Catharine Beecher.
To retrieve some of the social recognition that women were losing as production and other aspects of social life moved away from the home, domestic reformers called for an elevation of women’s status in the family, and for increased recognition of the contribution that domestic relations made to community life in general.
They did not challenge the relegation of women to the domestic sphere, but only the relationship between that sphere and the rest of the society. The demand for suffrage represented a much more advanced program for improving women’s position.
Suffragists recognized that the locus of community life had shifted away from the family and that women’s aspirations for a greater voice in the conduct of community affairs could be satisfied only by their moving into the public realm. Moreover, the demand for woman suffrage raised the prospect of sex equality in a way that proposals for domestic reforms never could.
Gender in Education, Work, and Family
At the work place, being a woman results in lower pay and being left out of important decision making arenas. Women have to fight the assumption that they would rather spend more time with their children than in moving up the career ladder. Women are seen as not taking their jobs as seriously as men while men are expected to concentrate on their jobs at the expense of their families. In the same way, gender determines the courses taken during a learning process.
Approximately 95 per cent of all domestic violence victims are women. Violent attacks on women occur in almost every area of their daily lives. They are assaulted in their homes, on the streets, in the workplace, and in schools. According to the United Nations, however, all human beings are born equal and qualify to enjoy every right or freedom.
If gender relations are to be improved in the society, the discussion of cultural roles must be encouraged at different levels in society. Organizations such as Promise Keepers must be empowered to extend their services and spread messages that will drive the society to generational changes regarding gender relations. This study has allowed me to understand that gender stratification often begins from the early days of one’s life and keeps on taking different forms as time goes by.
Brinkerhoff, David, Lynn White and Suzanne Ortega. Essentials of Sociology, Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2007. Print.
Howe, Tasha. Marriages and Families in the 21st Century: A Bioecological Approach, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Print.
Kornblum, William. Sociology in a Changing World, Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
Unger, Rhoda. Handbook of the Psychology of Women and Gender, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2004. Print.